Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Big Game and Snow in Hell


Its time for the Big Game.

But this year its not so big. And I am feeling morose. I would like to believe that the Bruins can overcome the steamroller that is SC, but I am also a pragmatist at heart. If the Bruins win, I suspect it will be a rather snowy day in Hell.

In this spirit, I give you excerpts from a classic column by the great sportswriter
Jim Murray. This article was written in 1978, and I clipped it out, and hung it on the door of my dorm room. For months it was there, like an identity badge. People loved it. I still do:

"You all know the kind of school USC is. The girls are built like chorus girls. The boys are all Adonises. Their fathers are all rich. The all live in San Marino and the family works for Guaranty Trust and their biggest worry is the commodity market and where to park the Mercedes at the Opera. There families have always run things in this town and they all belong to fraternities where you have to prove you never drove a used car and you think Hoover was our greatest President. The get their first yacht at age 12."

"And they'll never have to lay pipe or pour cement or sweep floors or serve drinks or wear a hard hat and they'll go through life getting guys to open doors for them and take their hats. That's the public image of SC. Sons of riches. The First World. A very private university, a very private club. That's the image SC projects. Top hats, patrons of art, a Modigliana in the guest bathroom."

"UCLA on the other hand, suggest a whole bunch of people who are going to become, not judges, but storefront lawyers, or child psychologists or oboists in the Philharmonic, or delegates to the Democratic convention. If they go abroad, its with the Peace Corps, not the plutocrats and its Biafra, not Biarritz, If they ever get into the Cabinet, it would be in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Undersecretary. They tolerate the football team because it brings in money for the Ban the Bomb rallies but they prefer volleyball and wish cardiologists got million-dollar contracts instead of guys who barely passed remedial english."
And so, we head to Saturday's game with a 13 point Vegas deficit to the Trojans. But in my mind, it might as well be 130 points. But I will take 21 points from Rob Asghar for a free lunch.

My two favorite teams? The Bruins, and whoever is playing against SC this week. And so, this Saturday is my college football planetary alignment. I so hope the Bruins win. But I also hope that world poverty would cease, that everyone in the Middle East would join hands and sing songs, that it would always be summer time, and that Pat Robertson would just shut up.

In the interest of borrowing from Jim Murray, and in deference to his amazing writing talent, I encourage you to go buy any books by him at Amazon.

Go Bruins!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Crusader Me



In an earlier life, I used to sing. Guess which one I am.

You may not guess the female.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Just Another Song, Just Another Old Church?


This morning a handful of kids stood in front of our aging urban church - in a sanctuary that shows its age, in a church torn by internal struggle over the past two years; now making its way toward an uncertain future. People trickled in, a bit late on the Sunday of a long holiday weekend. Young and old, rich and poor, needy and comfortable.

The singing began, a song from Alison Kraus, a theme on an old traditional:

As I went down in the river to pray
Studying about that good old way
And who shall wear the starry crown Good Lord, show me the way!

Was it was just another Sunday, just another bunch of kids, just another song?

I looked around at those gathered around me:

- The elderly woman in declining health, for whom even coming to church is a great effort. Slow but purposeful steps toward an uncertain ending.

- The deaf woman with the wonderful smile and quiet servant heart, who comes each week and gladly serves the homeless lunch after church. From silence springs a heart willing to care.

- The otherwise "put together" young professional couple struggling to raise teenagers, who wonder if these strange stages of life have any purpose or meaning.

- The single office worker in her middle years, trying to understand where God is in the midst of her singleness, loneliness, and wondering. No words to heal this pain.

- The homeless man who has recovered his life as a result of a choosing a life of community and accountability, who now serves others from a place of understanding and compassion. A man redeemed.

- The tired and weary choir members, who have suffered emotionally from the painful and confusing church split, who might even wonder why they get up and come each Sunday. Is there grace in the midst of weary souls?

- The c
ouple in their 80s, slightly bent over in their seats, who have faithfully served the church for more than 50 years, and are here again, to worship and serve, on this otherwise ordinary Sunday. Steadfast, giving, determined.

- and
those sitting near the back of church, or maybe in the darkened corners, who come struggling with their sexuality, trying to figure out if God really loves them or not. Wanting to know.

O sinners let's go down,
Let's go down, come on down,
O sinners let's go down,
Down in the river to pray.

As I went down in the river to pray
Studying about that good old way
And who shall wear the robe and crown Good Lord, show me the way !

Just another song? Maybe.

But I think this. Not just a song. Rather, a connection between the ancient past and the modern present. An echo of someplace else, something greater. A taste of home for us all that seems far away, but yet is so much closer than we think. A moment of calm in the midst of the storms of life. A sacred place. A home.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Who Needs the Bling? Bruin Women Volleyball!


Today, my family took a trip to Westwood to one of the finest universities in the land. I, on the other hand took a trip down memory lane.

It has been 26 years since I trod the hills of Westwood. Down Bruin walk at 7 AM for a calculus class, back up in the afternoon to eat at the dorm (
Hedrick Hall), and then back down in the evening to study till I could barely stay awake, then back up to the dorm to crash into my bed (or party a couple of hours!).

Those were great times. So long ago.

Fast forward 26 years. Marriage, kids, life. Today, we traveled to UCLA today to watch the Bruin lady volleyball team take on Oregon in their last regular season game of the year. The lady Bruins won again, in a three game sweep, their 19th of the year. On to the NCAA Tourney! Pictured at left is our younger daughter Heather , who has just started playing middle school volleyball, with
UCLA Senior Nana Meriweather, after the game.

It is a joy to watch these girls play! This is college sports at its best, untainted by the lure of professional play, unmarked by prima-dona overgrown boys in tattoos attempting to impress pro scouts. No threat of professional ball here, just pretty much true sport. What a nice change. These young ladies will go on to lead largely normal lives, without all the money, fame, bling, and moral failure of many male college athletes. These women will become the future coaches, business women, lawyers, mothers, and other professionals our world needs. Largely unnoticed, but greatly valued. This is a good thing.

Go get 'em Bruin Volleyball Women. Hail to the Hills!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

This Fair Land


If we are careful, we can listen and hear something important, abiding, and profoud from the past. As we rush to get the turkey in the oven, greet the guests from near and far, and settle in around the table, we need to take a minute to remember.

Remember where we came from.

For the past 45 years, the same two editorials have appeared each year on the Opinion Page of the Wall Street Journal.

The Desolate Wilderness, And The Fair Land

I have found, after some brief research, that, at least on one side of my family, I am an 11th generation American, tracing my family directly to the Carolinas in the period of the Revolutionary war. And so, these words, perhaps mean a bit more to me:

Being now passed the vast ocean, and a sea of troubles before them in expectations, they had now no friends to welcome them,
no inns to entertain or refresh them, no houses, or much less towns, to repair unto to seek for succour; and for the season it was winter, and they that know the winters of the country know them to be sharp and violent, subject to cruel and fierce storms, dangerous to travel to known places, much more to search unknown coasts.

Besides, what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wilde beasts and wilde men? and what multitudes of them there were, they then knew not: for which way soever they turned their eyes (save upward to Heaven) they could have but little solace or content in respect of any outward object; for summer being ended, all things stand in appearance with a weatherbeaten face, and the whole country, full of woods and thickets, represented a wild and savage hew.
I find it helpful to remember from whence I have come.

Today, might we remember that for some Providential reason beyond our understanding, we have been placed in This Fair Land. All is not perfect in this land, all is not fair, justice is not universal.

Woody and Billy (Not a Country Band)



My friend Rob Asghar recommended this.....quite amusing. Oh, the good old days, when even agnostics were tolerant and funny.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Miscellaneous Items; Fundamentalists and Failures


For some time, I have wanted to find helpful material for me to process my own thinking/struggling with the Muslim world and the mess our country finds itself in these days.

I have found help from someone I trust. My friend Julie has a post on an important voice in Islam who brings a form of clarity that is greatly needed. I think we should keep our eye on this. And, brace ourselves. I think we have not seen the worst of the radical Islamic movement yet.

Separately, but related are two bits on the whole Ted Haggard mess that really should be looked at carefully. My friend Mark Roberts has done a series on Ted Haggard and the burdens that pastors face.

And again, Julie, that energetic Bruin that she is, has written perhaps the very best thoughts on the set up for failure that the church creates in this piece "No Christian Cure....". Outstanding!

One more thing. James Dobson often makes me nuts. And here is another reason why. I would hope that should I commit a major moral failure (God forbid please!), that my friends would have the time to commit to standing beside me, and holding me up as I seek healing; no matter how ugly. Seems to me, I remember reading something about this once. Maybe, just maybe, Dr. Dobson might need to examine his busy calendar and see what priorities most embody the character of Christ. For me, standing beside a fallen friend is near the top of the list. But I am not as important, or influential, or busy, or famous....so perhaps I should just shut up.

There.
I will.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Thanksgiving Prayer a Bit Early

This afternoon, our family had the privilege of serving at The Lord's Lighthouse, a home-grown community service of our church.

About 300 people; some homeless, some down on their luck, some chronically mentally ill, all from the streets of Hollywood, were served today. This happens every Sunday, all year long.

The memory I take away from this afternoon, and everytime I serve, is of the hands. Countless hands, reaching up. Dirty hands, dirty fingernails, weathered skin, holding up Styrofoam cups into which I pour cup after cup after cup of fruit punch and coffee. Hands worn rough by life, by loss, by frustration, by mental demons, by being lost or forgotten, or downtrodden. All those hands.

As we gathered to pray before lunch, a Thanksgiving Prayer by Ralph Waldo Emerson was read:

For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food,
For love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends.

I looked at my hands when I got home to my comfortable suburban home. They seemed clean. But, you know what? My hands are dirty too.

Thankfulness is relative. May I be truly thankful, and may I live a life of thanks that is overflowing and spills over to others.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Big Game Coming



There is a big college football game tomorrow. Let's just pretend this little doll is named Tommy Trojan.

I confess, that when it comes to anything Troy, I have a heart of darkness. Mea Culpa.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Stopping a Moment from the Rush

Today I flew to Sacramento for work; I will return home tomorrow. Today was a very full day, up at 5 AM to catch my flight, a large meeting at 10 AM on a complex government property, and off to look at other commercial sites around the city until the sun went down. I have noticed that when one flys from Southern to Northern California, a new phenomenon occurs. Seasons. Yes people, it is actually Fall up here. The reds and yellows on the trees up this way are remarkable. You want to pull over the car and just stop. And look. And wonder.

On a side note, I have recently been reading more frequently the blogs of my friends
Rob and Julie, who have a more "deconstructionist" view of their faith than I. Their thinking does not scare me, or make me angry, or make me want to change their minds. I like their minds, they are using them well, as they should. They are both remarkable and amazing people. I am very glad I know them both, and count them as friends.

And so, this afternoon, I am in my rent-a-car, whizzing about Sacramento, when rather unexpectantly, I had a small epiphany. While stopped at a red light, I glanced to my left, and suddenly noticed a clump of trees in full Fall color, next to an office park. An otherwise typical suburban landscape. But here, a gentle wind was blowing through these brilliant Northern California trees. I watched, transfixed for several moments, as the wind rustled through the trees, shimmering, dancing, waves of red and yellow. I caught my breath, and remembered.


And then, the light turned green.

Who designed those trees, and the subtle and sublime golden sunset today? Who designed my sweet and loving wife, and my daugthers in all their teenage fury and passion? Who designed me, and put me at that traffic light in the middle of the day in the rush of traffic to silently wonder? Just for a moment; caught in time. I choose not to argue evolution or Darwinian Theory with you. I am not quite deconstructionist. But still, I wonder....Who?

Sara Groves wrote a song that speaks about the core of who I am:

I'm trying to work things out • I'm trying to comprehend • Am I the chance result • Of some great accident • I hear a rhythm call me • The echo of a grand design • I spend each night in the backyard • Staring up at the stars in the sky • .....• Maybe this was made for me • For lying on my back in the middle of a field • Maybe that's a selfish thought • Or maybe there's a loving God • • Maybe I was made this way • To think and to reason and to question and to pray • And I have never prayed a lot • But maybe there's a loving God •

Indeed. Maybe.

I think ....there is.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Concession Stands and the New Congress

Simply stated, I love Peggy Noonan. She has a way of writing that cuts to the chase with simple eloquence. She wrote for Ronald Reagan. Need I say more?

She has just written a piece for the Wall Street Journal that resonates with me completely. Go here to read it, I am not sure how much longer it will be at the top of the page at the free WSJ site. It is called "Concession Stand", if they take it down soon, you can still search for it at this free site.

My favorite bit:

At the end of the day, or the end of this day, I look at the new Congress and wish them so well, such luck. Don't you? I want to say: Go, Nancy Pelosi. Be the speaker of whom historians will write, in 2032, "This was her moment, here was the summit, here she found greatness."

Go, Democrats, be great and serious. Go, minority Republicans, refind yourselves. Go, conservatives.

To the freshmen: Walk in as if you're walking out. Put your heart on your sleeve and go forward. Take responsibility, and love America. No one will think less of you. They will in fact think more, as they do of politicians after the concession speech.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Where are all The Young People?


Recently, I received an invitation to attend a "Stewardship Lunch" at church. I know what this means. It means a box lunch for "church leaders", a chance to catch up with some friends, and then an hour long presentation about, of course, Stewardship - for the uninitiated, the giving of money.

We Presbyterians do this every year. Like someone may have forgotten what the point was last year! Sometimes, I would rather have oral surgery than go.

I could save this process a lot of time, and shorten the basic message to this: 1) We are a church, and order to operate, we need money, 2) Please give us your money; as much of it as you can, 3) Thank you, and please drive safely heading home.

They don't let me run these lunches. Can you guess why?

Anyway, during this event, I felt my mind wandering, and I took a moment to scan the room and take a quick inventory of the 80 to 100 people who were there; the "church leaders". As I have written before, our church is a wonderful mix of people, rich and not so rich, all colors of the rainbow, and a remarkable collection of faith stories.

But as I scanned the room, I saw one of the things I fear about our old, urban, mainline denomination church; an abundance of grey and colored-but-otherwise-grey hair.

Now mind you, I should talk. At 48 years old, I hardly even have any hair in the first place. But often, when attending events like this, I find myself having sort of semi-disembodied moments, when I try, for a moment, to mentally step out of the scene and take an inventory of who is there, why they came, and what motivates them to be a part of the scene in the first place. All these people, why are they here?

When I looked around this semi-and very-greying room, the thought that came thundering into my head, and then filled my heart with a cool wind was, "where the heck are all the Young People?". You know, the people under 40, under 35, or even under 30, for heavens sake! What are we going to build our church around in future years? Are we going to install hearing assistance devices in all the pews, and offer senior discounts to the Christmas pageant? Are future potluck dinners going to eventually transition to only pureed foods? Will we be issuing Clappers to turn on the lights?

Here is my problem. I think I read and think to much. For instance, this summer, I read a book that was formational in my thinking about the future of the Church. But guess what? This future church involves.....gasp!....younger people!

And where the heck were they when I was at the Stewardship Lunch. Not there, that is where. And why? Because I and the other leaders of our church have failed at reaching out, at building real, lasting, meaningful relationships with others, at being missional; we have hard slogging to do in the way of transforming ourselves. That includes me, Chief of All Sloggers. Tally ho!

Veteran's Day


Today is Veteran's Day. More than 60 years ago, my father, Roland Norris, served in the US Army Air Force. The photos to the left (click on them, they are pretty cool) are of my Dad; he was the real deal, a Captain, a training pilot, and a B17 Air Sea rescue pilot.

T
oday, it is not quite popular to celebrate heroes of conflict. I have no hesitation. I am thankful for, and proud of my Dad. Because he, and countless others served, our world has taken a safer path.










Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Rush of Life - Personalized


'Too fast, Daddy! Slow down, slow dooown!"

"Too fast!" This is what my oldest daughter used to say when she was little, I would speed the car up to pass someone on the freeway. I have a problem with that - the whole too fast thing.

And my life is like that too. Poof! My daughters are almost 13 and 16, and how did that happen? And how did I get to be this age I am, and feeling so contemplative about my life and my family?

I recently received my first speeding ticket in about 20 years, for doing 50 in a 35 mile an hour zone. I so deserved it. I move way too fast. Sometimes, there is no stopping me.

And what for? I get up each day, shower, drive kids to school, stop in Starbucks, and off the to office, or meetings, or road trips for work, or flights out of town for more work. Then, each weekday night, its back home for dinner, more meetings (at church!) or in the community. And the sun sets, I go to bed, and get up and do it all over again.

Jackson Browne
wrote a song many years ago that resonates in my head and defines my life these days:

I'm going to rent myself a house
In the shade of the freeway
I'm going to pack my lunch in the morning
And go to work each day
And when the evening rolls around
Ill go on home and lay my body down
And when the morning light comes streaming in
Ill get up and do it again
Amen
Say it again
Amen

Now, perhaps this is reason why I have found The Monastery on TLC to be such a fascinating program. This show follows five men who visit Christ in the Desert monastery for 40 days, each in a separate and personal pursuit of God.

What is remarkable to me about this program is the juxtaposition between the five visiting men and the monks of the monastery. It is Old World versus New. Secular versus Sacred. Fast Lane versus dirt road. Wait. Make that dirt path.

As I watch the lives of the monks, my heart feels strangely warmed. I sense a depth of spirituality and longing that my own life lacks.

The Rush of Life



I find this video to be completely fascinating. More on a theme from this is found in the post above.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Sitting Down and Remembering


Yesterday, I went to a place that most of us do not want to go. I paid a visit that was overdue, an obligation of sorts, and a way to honor my Dad. As both of my parents have both requested no memorial service, this was the first semi-formal way that Dad and I have had to remember Mom together.

Yesterday my Dad and I went for a visit to the Mausoleum niche where my Mom's ashes have been placed. Mom passed away just more than three months ago. I wrote about it earlier
here and here.

It was about a 20 minute drive to Forest Lawn, and Dad spent much of the time reminiscing of the old days, talking about friends from his work and social life of 30 and 40 years ago. This is what those familiar with gerontology refer to as "life review". My Dad does a lot of life review these days.

As we drove through the gates of Forest Lawn, my Dad began to remember the resting places of old friends, relatives and family members who had also been buried there, years ago. Being with Dad is often like having your own personal family historian. Nothing about the current state of affairs of the world, or about what is going on in the life of our family now, but much about the events of the period from 1930 to 1980. He usually starts in on the old days about 2 minutes after you stop in to see him. Every time.

We arrived at the "Colubarium of Blessedness" (I love these names) where Mom's ashes are contained. Her resting place is right next to the door and was easy to find. She is in the same section as my Dad's brother Neil (who is a story in himself, but that is for another time). Mom's niche is right at ground level, and one must either bend down to read the plaque, or simply sit on the floor. At this point, something interesting happened. Dad chose to get down on one knee, and then sit on the floor right in front of Mom's niche.

For me, this was a most interesting and touching moment. My Dad is the person whom I have spent the better part of the past 20 years trying to understand and compensate for in my own life. I guess we all do this, figuring out how we are different from and the same as our parents. There we were, father and son, 48 and 86 years old, one standing, one sitting on the floor at the resting place of our wife and Mother. Two generations. Dad needed to be close to Mom in a way, I guess.

Dad needed time to sit, and think, and even talk to himself a bit about the loss of his wife of almost 50 years. More in the long process of grieving. Sitting on the floor and remembering at 86.

I helped Dad slowly to his feet, we got in the car, and headed home.

This life, this journey, this mystery we share. Father and son.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Something Entirely Brand New


I found something that is very important, and I think it bears linking here. There is a lot going on in these ideas, and I want my pastor friends to go read this.

What if God wants the future to look entirely different than the past? What if?

Oh, to view life with the eyes of a child again!

Christian or Christ Follower?



I am with the guy on the right.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

My Halloween Issues


Now that its over, and not wanting to be a party pooper, I have to admit, I am getting to a place in life where I dread Halloween each year.

The reason; Halloween is not at all like it used to be. When I was a kid Halloween consisted of one night spent dressing up like your favorite TV character, scary person, or Super Hero, and running around the neighborhood fetching candy. One year I was a member of the Beatles (I think I was Ringo). Another year I was a robot, complete with a cardboard box outfit. The neighborhood bully saw me, and dressed as some form of low budget gool, pushed me and my unstable outfit over into the neighbor's ivy. Perhaps that was when I started disliking all the dressing up and cavorting for sugar.

Nowadays, Halloween feels like it is careening out of control. According to a study by the National Retail Federation, consumers are expected to spend $5 billion this Halloween, up significantly from $3.3 billion in 2005. That is an increase of 51% in one year! Halloween now ranks as the biggest decorating holiday of the year after Christmas. Two thirds of consumers planned to purchase Halloween d├ęcor and half planned to decorate their home or yard, the federation’s study found.

This yard decorating thing is also getting out of hand. We have several neighbors in our area that put more effort and money into Halloween decoration of their homes than they do Christmas. So then, let me get this straight, a holiday that gets its origins from the Celtics and Druids is now ramping up to surpass the birth of Christ for spending.

Call me a balding, pudgy, middle-aged conservative white guy from the suburbs, but I feel a bit weird about the spiritual future of our land.
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